Ben was fourteen


One day we were playing in my backyard behind the garage, and my friend
Henry pulled out a pack of Marlboros from his jeans and gave me that grin. I’d
seen it before, and it was hard to resist, especially when he lit one and
looked so cool. Like he was grown up already, even though we were only
eleven. Before I knew it I was squatting down low in the bushes while Henry
struck the match, and the burning like hot tar in my throat, and I coughed until
I thought I was gonna throw up. That’s when my brother caught us.
Ben was fourteen. Practically grown up the way he stood there with that
unbelieving look of shock on his face.
“You’re smoking!” he said.
“Just a puff,” I said. “I stopped, see?” I held out the stub to prove it,
until the
embers burned my hand. “OWW!”
Henry was kinding of backing away toward his backpack that was learning
against the garage wall, like this was a scene he didn’t want to deal with.
“Gotta go,” Henry said, stuffing the Marlboro packet in his pocket.
“Yeah, you better,” said Ben, glowering.
Henry backed away, waving and smiling at me with that same careless
grin. When he was gone Ben said,
“You’re in a world of trouble, Casey.”
“You ain’t gonna tell, are you?
“Hell yes I am. Think I’m gonna let you kill yourself with them
cigarettes?”
“Yeah, you rather Mom and Dad kill me.”
“You got it coming and you know it. If they I knew I knew and I didn’t say
anything…”
“Oh come on, Ben, please… You know they’re gonna bust my butt and
ground me forever and its baseball season coming up.”
“Should’ve thought of that before,” said Ben, but there was enough
hesitation in his voice for me to know I was getting to him. He knew how
much I liked baseball.
“Come on, Ben, please….”
“No way,” he said, shaking his head to make it final. “I seen you smoking,
Ben. Smoking, for Chrissake! You don’t learn now, you’ll never learn. I don’t
want that on my conscience.”
“Oh come on Ben, please… I’m start-up pitcher, you can’t do this, please,
man.” I think I was crying then, because it did mean so much to me, and then
Ben’s hand was on my shoulder.
“All right,” said Ben. “All right…”
“Thanks, man! I knew you were okay, Ben.”
“Not so fast. You can’t get off without anything.”
“Without what?”
“Without some kind of punishment.” He looked at me squarely, and he
wasn’t kidding. I kept waiting for him to break into a laugh, but he didn’t.
“What?” I said, incredulous. “You mean, you? You’re gonna punish me?”
“It’s either me or Dad. Which do you want? Decide now, bro.”
I thought about it like six seconds. “Okay,” I said.
Ben and me had both been whipped by Dad. It was like we both knew what
had to happen without saying anything. Ben nodded to me, and I went inside
and headed to my room, my butt burning in anticipation all the way down the
hall. My throat was all tied in a knot. I went and sat on the edge of my bed
and waited…

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